How to Hack Your Ability to Learn Quickly

Roger Osorio's Blog

I recently started reading The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, a book about unlocking the neurological insights for developing skills in sports, art, music, math, and just about anything. What interested me most about this book was the neurological perspective that Daniel Coyle wrote from. He truly dedicated this book to unlocking our ability to develop skills and talent all the way from the cellular level. His writing style is great and easy to follow.

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

In his book he talks about the significant role that myelin plays in learning and developing skills. Essentially, if you consider brain cells (neurons) the data and the connections (axons and dendrites) the reporting, synthesis, and insight from connecting the data then myelin is the auto-reporting feature that consistently extracts and executes on the insight from these established connections even as the data evolves and updates. So imagine an automatically…

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Reimagining Schools as Lean Startups

A few weeks ago I was hanging out in Austin, TX at the third annual SXSWedu conference.  This conference has grown tremendously since it’s first year and this year it more than doubled in attendance from last.

Just like in the spirit of the rest of the SXSW festival, SXSWedu delivered a powerful and energetic environment, passionate and inspiring participants, insightful speakers, and thought-provoking themes and topics.  After four days I was exhausted from all of the inspiration, stimulation, and excitement.  This is the kind of exhaustion that I enjoy!

Over the next several weeks, I plan to write several posts about the great ideas I learned about that week so that I can share it with my readers.  Today I want to focus on one of the ideas that excite me within the education space.

At this year’s SXSWedu, I learned a lot about schools operating on the fringes of the educational system.  These schools, whether private or charter, are testing new models, measuring results, learning, and making adjustments as they go.  Essentially, there are schools that are developing in the same way lean startups do.  They remain flexible enough to learn from their mistakes and make changes in real-time.  Furthermore, they are attracting teachers with diverse backgrounds that include corporate, startup, performing arts, academic, and other types of experiences.

When you consider their approach and diversity, you begin to have the makings for a dynamic and inspirational culture.  This is the type of culture where people celebrate mistakes and find new and exciting ways to solve them.  This is also the type of culture where teachers, students, and administrators collaborate and treat each others as peers.

I’m very excited about these developments in education and look forward to their results.  I have no doubt that they won’t get it right the first time, but that’s ok.  They have the culture to process that mistake, iterate, and move on with a new solution.  Here are two schools that I met through my trips to SXSWedu.

Lawton Chiles Prep students showing off their new class pet.

Lawton Chiles Prep students showing off their new class pet.

Lawton Chiles Preparatory School (LCPS) – I came to learn of this school when I met founder, Christine Ortiz.  At the age of 26, Christine turned her vision of what a school should be like into a reality by creating this school.  Located in the suburbs of Orlando, FL, LCPS is a place where teachers and students come together to form an exciting and inspiring learning community.  LCPS embodies the try, measure, learn, and iterate process.  Currently, LCPS is hiring for a few positions (admin assistant and physics faculty, and American sign language faculty).  Check out their awesome benefits – you’ll have a hard time finding a culture like theirs.  If you are interested, send your resume and cover letter to

Venture AcademyVenture Academy (VA) – I had the pleasure of meeting the Chief Entrepreneurship Officer, Jon Bacal, and Chief Learning Officer, Kerry Muse, of Venture Academy a few weeks ago.  Venture Academy is designing a school starting with the desired outcome.  Their mission is to “ignite the passion of all young people to become innovators and entrepreneurial leaders who will change the world.”  Starting from this desired outcome, they began building a school that empowers students to direct their own learning and work in collaboration with teachers and administrators.  Like LCPS, Venture wants to create a culture where students and teachers, alike, are empowered try, measure, learn, and iterate.  Their vision is to lead from the bottom up by empowering teachers as leaders of the organization.  Ultimately, teachers have the best understanding of the student environment and as such should play a critical role in leading the school.  This is not your typical teaching position.  In fact, the role title is Edupreneur, not teacher.  That speaks volumes of what they expect from their educators.  Venture Academy launches this fall, starting with its first 6th grade class and plans to add a grade each year.  There are still a few Edupreneur positions available for math/science, English language learning, and special education teachers.  To apply for one of these awesome roles, email Venture at

Is “Traditional” Education So Bad?

I’m the first to say the education system in the US could benefit from some serious changes.  However, the more people I talk to the more I realize that it doesn’t seem quite clear what “traditional” education is.  I’ve attended many events and talks on the need for a new model of education, one that replaces the so-called “traditional” model.  For example, I’ve heard people say that lecturing groups of students and having classrooms are part of that traditional model that needs to be replaced.

traditional classroomLet’s just focus on those two elements of “traditional” education.  This makes me ask, what’s so bad about a classroom?  What’s so bad about talking to students in a large group?  When students watch Khan Academy videos, the presenter of the video lectures them.  Two main differences come to mind – first, we can pause and replay a specific part or all of the video and second, we cannot ask the presenter questions.  That’s one pro and one con.  The other question I ask is what’s so bad about the classroom?  As far as I am concerned, rooms perform some very useful functions in my life.  There’s the office, the dining room, the living room, the steam room, the bedroom, and let’s not forget the best room of all, the bathroom!  One thing you may notice these rooms all have in common is a purpose.  The room has a clearly defined purpose, which empowers it and gives it value.  Perhaps what needs to change is what we call the classroom because “class” does not clearly communicate a value-added purpose.  Maybe we can have study rooms, math rooms, reflection rooms, lab rooms, brainstorming rooms, etc.

The reason I am writing this post is not to make a case for traditional or untraditional education, however anyone may or may not define it.  My point is that we need to be careful of what we include in “traditional” education when we refer to getting rid of it.

I am just as passionate as anyone else about the opportunity to make some value-added changes and additions to the current models for education.  However, I believe there is a lot to be appreciated such as teacher presentations and classrooms.  The opportunity for improvement lies within those elements.  WHAT we do in the classroom can be untraditional and HOW we deliver presentations and lectures can be untraditional.  Technology is on our side and provides us with a powerful opportunity to significantly add value to these elements of education.  Let’s not forget, as awesome and revolutionary as the smart phone was, it’s still a phone.  What Apple did so successfully was add tremendous value to this existing device.

The last thought I’ll leave you with is to consider carefully what is meant by and included in traditional education when it comes up in the next EDU conversation you have.

Algebra IS Necessary

I believe we can all agree that perseverance and confidence play a significant role in success.  No matter what example of success we come up with, we can safely say that confidence and perseverance played a key role.  For instance, confidence is built with each win we achieve, no matter how small.  However, we aren’t perfect, so we cannot count on perfect records and thus must persevere through the inevitable failures.  Taken together, confidence and perseverance are essential to any subsequent success.

A few weeks ago, I read an article in the New York Times Sunday Review entitled, “Is Algebra Necessary?”  The author, Andrew Hacker, suggested that the math requirements in our high schools and colleges are a leading contributor to high school and college drop out rates.  According to Hacker, “making math mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent.”  He also goes on to suggest that new classes should emerge addressing what he terms “citizen statistics.”  These courses would cover topics such as the Consumer Price Index, and help “familiarize students with the kind of numbers that describe and delineate our personal and public lives.”

I highly agree with his idea and believe there is a place for a course on citizen statistics, however, within a curriculum that covers Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, and other advanced courses.  In fact, I believe Hacker’s heart is in the right place.  He ultimately wants more students to succeed in school and subsequently in their lives.  I too want the same thing as I am sure does every educator.  The difference is that I believe there is still a place for a solid math education and we need to consider its benefits before we eliminate it.

In the next few paragraphs, I am going to address specific comments made by Mr. Hacker.  I will then close by coming full circle on my original thesis that confidence and perseverance are critical to success. Continue reading

There is No Such Thing as a Bad Student

I recently read comments on an article about a new platform that allows teachers to sell their lesson plans to teachers worldwide.  In a response to the article, one person commented that the quality of student has decreased and others agreed with his assessment.

How dare we even talk about the “quality” of a student?  A student comes to school as a “tabula rasa” (blank slate) and as teachers, we are responsible for developing a quality student.

An expectation of “student quality” suggests that some students are predisposed to successfully complete the teacher’s work and others are not.  Thus if they do not succeed in a particular teacher’s classroom then it must be the student that is the problem.  To be clear, I am not suggesting that students should be passive participants nor that all the responsibility for learning rests on the teacher.

Mr. Miyagi (left) taught Danny Karate to build his confidence and prepare him for a tournament.

There is a line by Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid that reads, “no such thing as bad student, only bad teacher.”  I agree with this line, but I would not necessarily use the word “bad” to describe teacher.  Instead I would replace it with unsuccessful.

I believe every student is capable of achieving great success, the only question is how they will achieve it.  As teachers, it is OUR job to find a way to reach that student.  Can EACH of us reach EVERY student?  Absolutely not.  There are some students we will simply not be able to reach.  However, that is not because the student is unreachable or his quality is low.  It is because that particular teacher could not reach that particular student.  That is not a bad reflection on the teacher.  That does not mean the teacher is bad.  It simply means the teacher was not successful with that particular student.  Thus, this student is simply to be reached by another teacher. Continue reading

Why are More Mistakes Critical to Success?

Previously, I wrote a blog post about how spectacular mistakes can lead to spectacular success.  Without letting go of fear of the former, we cannot have the latter.  In this post I want to discuss why we should get excited about making mistakes – many of them.  Perhaps it’s poor writing fashion, but I will risk giving away the punch line up front:  with every mistake we make, we learn at least one thing that doesn’t work and have the opportunity to discover at least one correction.  If we look at it that way, our technique can only improve with every mistake we make, thus the more mistakes we make, the better off we are.

Since moving back to NYC from St. Louis, I have had significantly more opportunities to spend time with my baby niece.  In the last few months she has been working on walking.  I am not sure there is any better example by which to observe the learning process.  Babies have no sense of self-consciousness thus they cannot be hindered or distracted by it.  Babies simply try and try again.  I have watched my niece walk along the walls, furniture, or while supported by both hands.  One day I refused to take her other hand and only extended a finger for her to hold on to – she complied.  She was doing fine and then she lost her footing and she fell – broke my heart.  Continue reading